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There is prob­a­bly a pretty good film to be made from Stephen King’s se­ries The Dark Tower. What I saw is not that film.

Or maybe The Dark Tower should never have been a film at all. A movie can just about do jus­tice to a short novel. But an eight-vol­ume se­ries was cry­ing out for the full Game of Thrones treatment, surely?

The Dark Tower sets it­self up as a par­tial se­quel to some of the events of the nov­els. The Gun­slinger (Idris Elba, per­fect) is an ar­che­typal man-alone. The Gun­slinger is on a mythic quest through a post-apoc­a­lyp­tic other world to pro­tect The Dark Tower that stands at the cen­tre of all al­ter­nate uni­verses.

Mean­while, in present-day New York City, 12-year-old Jake Cham­bers is hav­ing night­mares and draw­ing pic­tures that re­late to The Gun­slinger and the Tower. Of course, there are por­tals that con­nect our world to theirs and a slew of myth­i­cal evil be­ings liv­ing be­hind anony­mous door­ways through­out Brook­lyn and Man­hat­tan.

Put like that, The Dark Tower, even as a stand­alone movie, had plenty of po­ten­tial. But the script is a blovi­ate mutt. And no amount of flair and flour­ish di­rec­tor Nikolaj Arcel throws at the screen can save it.

A good, daft fan­tasy needs to es­tab­lish its char­ac­ters and their per­ils early, and save the re­veal of just how silly it all is un­til near the end. At var­i­ous times, The Dark Tower had me think­ing wist­fully of The Ma­trix, Ja­cob’s Lad­der, Dark City and fel­low King adap­ta­tion Dream­catcher. All of which rely on por­ous bound­aries be­tween re­al­i­ties and a fight be­tween good and evil that moves be­tween worlds. But those films all play their cards close to their chests and keep us guess­ing – along with the pro­tag­o­nist – about what is go­ing on.

The Dark Tower lays its id­io­cies out early, in a wordy and un­nec­es­sary pre­am­ble and by sad­dling Elba with screeds of over­writ­ten ex­po­si­tion. It’s a mori­bund first half-hour and the film never re­cov­ers or gains any mo­men­tum. Even Matthew McConaughey turn­ing up as the de­monic Man in Black can’t get the party started.

McConaughey looks more dis­in­ter­ested and poorly cast here than I have ever seen him.

He’s sup­posed to be a mur­der­ous em­bod­i­ment of evil, a lit­er­ally Satanic char­ac­ter, but plays the role as a vaguely dodgy wide-boy who oc­ca­sion­ally just hap­pens to kill peo­ple.

Even the charisma of Idris Elba can’t save The Dark Tower.

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